Same Bases, New Faces: 2016 New Canaan Rams Baseball Preview


In 2015, New Canaan Rams Baseball had a crop of senior talent that could be argued as the best in the program’s past decade, with the possible exception of 2007’s class headlined by now Tampa Bay Rays catcher, Curt Casali and the 2013 state championship-winning team led by Andrew Casali and Casey Ouellette.

Scenes from New Canaan's 8-7 win over Greenwich at Mead Park on May 11, 2015. Credit: Terry Dinan

It was a team filled with familiar names and faces in 2015. The Rams are hoping that even with a pretty clean group, before too long, 2016 can provide the same. Credit: Terry Dinan

11 seniors suited up for the Rams last year (15-5, 14-4 FCIAC; made FCIAC and CIAC Class L Playoffs), including regular starters Alex LaPolice (OF/P), David Giusti (P/OF), Brandon Abate (SS), Zack Smith (C), Kyle Levasseur (3B), and Kane Curtin (RF), as well as the oft-called-upon-pitcher, Clark Newlove.

And having that amount of veteran leadership allowed the Rams to erase late-game deficits on several occasions, pulling out classic win after classic win — certainly making the 2015 squad one of the more thrilling baseball teams of recent memory.

Even so, the byproduct of having such a large, vital senior class one year is that it means the next year will be filled with a lot of fresh faces. Enter the 2016 Rams of New Canaan Baseball.

Rams head coach Mitch Hoffman talks strategy during New Canaan's 8-7 win over Greenwich at Mead Park on May 11, 2015. Credit: Terry Dinan

Rams head coach Mitch Hoffman talks strategy during New Canaan’s 8-7 win over Greenwich at Mead Park on May 11, 2015. Credit: Terry Dinan

“Everybody [from last year] is [practically] gone,” Hoffman told “We’ve got (juniors) Robby Jones and Matt Burger back. But neither one of them will play the same position they did last year. We also have (senior co-captain) Thomas Williams back as well as (senior co-captain) Jack Havard, who pitched a little last year, too.”

With only four people who saw significant playing time on last year’s team returning, it leaves seventh-year Head Coach Mitch Hoffman with many valuable spots on his 2016 roster to be filled. Rather than view the task as daunting, Hoffman is intrigued by such a situation.

“I think our team, hopefully, will have a little hunger in them,” said Hoffman. “Traditionally, we’ve had a couple guys here and there that have been highlight-reel players going into the season. This year we don’t have that. We have a whole new crop that nobody knows. So when people don’t know who you are, hopefully you get a little bit hungry. I feel like they’re playing behind the eight-ball a little bit, so we’re gunning for that ‘hungry’ mentality.”

Going around the diamond, those envisioned to contribute at the corner spots at 1st and 3rd base will be a combination of juniors Mike Pelli, Michael Svagdis, Burger, Joey Bonsanti, sophomore Zach Lopez and senior Ryan Radecki. Up the middle at 2B and SS the playing time will be taken up by the group of Patrick Diamond, Nate Bozzella, Troy Dunnam (who will also see action at a corner spot) and Curt and Andrew’s younger brother Chase Casali. Then the outfield will consist of a mix made up of Thomas Williams, Thomas Reynolds, sophomore Griffin Arnone, Lucian Tamburro, and Spencer Williams.

When it comes to those stepping on the mound for the Rams in 2016, the staff will be anchored by its one-two punch of Jones and the co-captain Havard.

New Canaan sophomore Robbie Jones with the game-winning home run ball, retrieved by former New Canaan great Mario Lopez. Credit: Terry Dinan

New Canaan sophomore Robby Jones pictured with the game-winning home run ball he hit during New Canaan’s thrilling, extra inning win vs. Greenwich in 2015. Credit: Terry Dinan

Those who followed the Rams in 2015 may remember Robby Jones as being one of those late-game heroes when during a game against Greenwich, with New Canaan down one and on both its last out and strike, Jones clubbed a walk-off two-run home run in extra innings, sending all of Mead Park into a frenzy.

But Jones was also on the rubber for the Rams in 2015 and became an integral contributor when Alex LaPolice tore the UCL in his elbow mid-season and could no longer pitch.

New Canaan's Jack Havard deals a pitch during the Rams' 10-9 win over St. Joe's, May 20, 2015. Credit: Terry Dinan

New Canaan’s 2016 co- captain Jack Havard deals a pitch during the Rams’ 10-9 win over St. Joe’s on May 20, 2015. Credit: Terry Dinan

Having that experience from last year should help as it also should for Havard, who is set up to take that next step toward becoming an arm that both Coach Hoffman and the team around him can rely on.

After them, however, a slew of names could be handed the ball by Hoffman at any point. They include Dunnam, Pelli, Svagdis, and Lopez. And that collection of arms will be throwing to either Matt Burger or Andrew Knight, who will split time behind the plate.

Whomever shapes up to be the starting nine each game, New Canaan will need everything it can get from its roster to compete in the FCIAC. Always seen as one of the toughest leagues in the state, 2016 should be no different with the likes of Staples, Norwalk and Westhill as the three Coach Hoffman says everyone in the FCIAC should have their eyes on.

New Canaan's Mike Pelli got two huge outs during the Rams' 10-9 win over St. Joe's, May 20, 2015. Credit: Terry Dinan

New Canaan’s Mike Pelli got two huge outs during the Rams’ 10-9 win over St. Joe’s on May 20, 2015. Coach Hoffman will look for just as much and more from the junior in 2016. Credit: Terry Dinan

“Staples is going to be very tough – I’m sure everybody’s saying it,” Hoffman said. “They’re going to be very, very top-heavy with pitching and some significant hitters. Norwalk’s one of the best pitching staffs in the FCIAC–and very, very well coached. And then from there, it’s a couple other teams, Westhill being one of the stronger ones. But the two top ones, in my mind are Norwalk and Staples.”

And both Westhill (Fri., 4/22) and Staples (Fri., 5/6) are slated to visit Mead Park this season (New Canaan plays at Norwalk on Mon., 4/25).

So while the bases at Mead Park’s field will always look the same, the faces near and/or on them will certainly look different than they did a year ago. But, again, that’s something that excites the coach presiding over the team who calls Mead home.

“It’s a nice, fresh group,” Hoffman said. “They’re young; they’re energetic. You can see it by looking into their eyes that they don’t know what to expect yet. So I’m hoping they get their bumps and bruises out [of the way] at the beginning of the season. And get hungry to finish the year strong as opposed to not knowing what to do. They’re not FCIAC experienced, but they are baseball experienced. So I’m hoping that experience, while also having many of them being multi-sport athletes, will help them compete at the FCIAC level.”

The Rams season gets underway this Saturday, April 2, when New Fairfield visits Mead Park at 12 p.m.

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